Monday, June 11, 2012

There's Someone Wrong on the Internet! (And they might be Mormon)

This comic has been floating around Facebook, and I love it. I describes my life entirely too accurately. I know I'm not the only one; if people didn't want to talk about what they thought social media would not exist. I was talking with my mom about social media the other day and she said that even on cooking sites she goes on, people argue heatedly over the merits of recipes. People like to say what they think.

There are many who say social media is dangerous and pointless. I don't deny that it can eat up large chunks of time if you let it, that it can hurt social skills if people use it as their only source of interaction, and that you can find garbage that you don't want to see. But none of those things are exclusive to social media; you can waste time and find things you are uncomfortable with anywhere, and you can isolate yourself without social media. I believe there are major benefits to social networking sites. They allow people to find communities of like-minded people who don't live in their area. They allow for the spread of information (I get a lot of my updates on feminist issues and Mormon issues from various Facebook groups0 as well as vetting for that information. With hundreds of people looking at something, you are more likely to be made aware if it is inaccurate or made up.

The church struggles with social networking sites, and the internet in general. It hasn't seemed to realize that anything it has ever said, in private or public, is available somewhere. They can change or remove information from the sources they control, but not everywhere. For example, they edited a talk given by Bro. Packer a few years ago in general conference. In the Ensign and on the video-feed on, it was different then the original. But people had recorded and transcribed the original, so you can still find it and use it. The same is true with historical information, church policy that isn't readily available through church sources (like parts of the Church Handbook of Instruction), personal experiences with the church and many other things.

Another problem I've noticed is encouraging members to bear testimony using social networking sites. I've seen many members do this, and generally it's pretty innocuous. like posting quotes or conference talks. Generally the only comments they get are from fellow Mormons agreeing with whatever it is. That's more preaching to the choir then missionary work, but whatever. Occasionally I see things that only Mormons will get, like someone who took two weeks and posted an Article of Faith as his status every day. He was trying to prove that Mormons were Christian, but since only a few actually talk about Christ, and many (number 10 comes to mind) are straight up confusing if you aren't Mormon (and sometimes even if you are.) Many non-members would look at that and just say "huh?" I guess confusion can lead to questions which could lead to missionary work, but often if I see something I really don't get on Facebook I just ignore it. Then you run into the problem of people reacting in anger if someone does ask a question about their religious posts, because they aren't prepared to deal with those questions.

But the biggest problem I've seen is people who, in an attempt to make the church look good or defend it actually end up making it and themselves look bad. This seems to happen mostly when trying to defend the church's stance on gay marriage and other social issues, or when trying to prove that the church is right for everyone. I've heard people say that they don't care if they hurt other people's feeling because they are defending what's right. I've heard God is prejudiced, that people who leave the church will be punished and all kinds of things that make people look bigoted and cruel and make the church look like an institution that cares more about being right then loving others and following Christ. In trying to defend the church's policies, the church comes out looking more bigoted then it did before they tried.

This was brought home in a recent Facebook thread on my wall. The person who did the most damage is in dark blue and I'm in dark green. A friend took this picture because it was astounding how much this person did not know about their own faith. They claimed that the church's stance on sin and homosexuality has never changed, and continued to say that after being shown changes in the CHI. They refused to believe that a man can be sealed to two living women, claiming anyone who did that was doing it without the knowledge of the church. Again, this is something the church has a policy on. They give permission for a man to be sealed a second time if he is legally divorced. This person simply did not know enough about their own religion to defend it well and because they were uneducated they ended up looking really stupid and making the church look stupid. How is it missionary work to say that the church doesn't do something when it does? And how are you a credible missionary if you don't know your own religion?

For a while now I've been thinking that the church should stop telling people to bear testimony on social networking sites. People are used to doing so in church where everyone nods, and even if someone disagrees they generally don't say anything. People rarely have to defend their testimonies in church. The same is not true online; not everyone shares your beliefs and since it is a public forum, questions and comments are fair game. In my mind if you put something up in a public forum, you should be able to explain it and answer legitimate questions. But the irritation that arises when someone is asked to explain something in their testimony is interesting; what exactly do they want to happen. If someone is interested, wouldn't they ask questions. And if those questions were shut down in anger, wouldn't that push people away from the church? Until people can discuss their testimonies intelligently and understand the church well enough to know what they are talking about, I'm not sure social networking is the best missionary tool.


  1. When I was a very faithful, believing, orthodox member of the church, I had no idea how the bearing of ones testimony came across to people not of our faith. I suppose it is good in that other people cannot argue with personal conviction, but on the other hand it's easily dismissed and to someone who's actually examining beliefs it can come across as a last ditch effort to get your point across when you have nothing to back up an assertion.

  2. I love this—there are so many great points. I definitely used to take Matthew 5:11 and Romans 1:16 as confirmation that it was alright if people disagreed with my religious arguments/"persecuted" me, because I was defending what was right and would be blessed for it. "Defending the Right" causes a lot of people to be blinded toward logic and rational thinking. Plus, it's usually their version of "the Right" anyway.